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Senate Confirms Trump FCC Nominee Nathan Simington, Threatening to Deadlock Commission

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Photo of President Donald Trump from the Daily Dot

December 9, 2020 — The Senate on Wednesday voted 49-46, along party lines, to confirm the appointment of President Donald Trump’s nominee Nathan Simington to the Federal Communications Commission. Critics warn that Simington’s confirmation could stall the incoming Biden administration’s agenda, including the move to reinstate net neutrality rules.

Simington, who was previously a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, was picked to replace Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who is exiting the FCC when Congress adjourns at the end of 2020.

Trump declined to renominate O’Rielly for another term after the commissioner expressed doubt about the legality of the president’s executive order directing the FCC to explore how to interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to regulate social media companies.

Simington, whom critics point out has very little experience in the field of communications policy, was picked by Trump after Simington helped draft the White House’s executive order on Section 230 to bar social-media companies from “engage in censoring or any political conduct.”

The legality of such a maneuver is disputed, but it seems Trump’s actions are in hopes to gain regulatory power over Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies.

Simington’s appointment gives the FCC a 2-2 split between parties beginning January 20, 2021, given that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he will leave the commission on inauguration day.

If the Senate remains controlled by Republicans in the new year, pending the outcome of the races for Senate in Georgia, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could move to block a Biden appointee to the FCC, preventing Democrats from securing a majority, in order to stymie the incoming White House.

Countless stakeholders have spoken out to congratulate Simington on his confirmation, including the Internet and Television Association, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, and the Internet Innovation Alliance.

The FCC’s Pai congratulated Simington and noted that the new FCC commissioner hails from a rural community, “and his confirmation ensures that this important perspective will continue to be represented on the Commission for years to come as the FCC continues its work on bridging the digital divide.”

Other stakeholders have warned of the potential for deadlock, urging the potentially divided Commissioners to work together. The Consumer Technology Association wrote in a statement, “when Chairman Pai steps down in January, the FCC will be deadlocked. As such, we urge the commission to work together in a bipartisan way to achieve shared goals, focus on those issues that are core to the agency’s mission and remain consistent with our free-enterprise values as a nation.”

Of the concerned interest groups, Public Knowledge’s statement was the most critical. In a released statement, the interest group urged the next Congress to quickly confirm President-elect Biden’s nomination to fill the fifth commissioner’s seat and further claimed that a deadlocked FCC was the original intent of Senate leadership.

The statement argued Simington’s confirmation will likely prevent the agency from doing all it can to help Americans access the internet during the pandemic, saying the situation “could jeopardize every technology initiative from expanding affordable broadband access to reinstating net neutrality rules.”

A deadlocked FCC will be unable to ensure that rural Americans get broadband access, communications networks work during emergencies, and those who don’t live near a doctor can access telehealth. “Gaming the system only hurts” the country at a time when we all need our technology and internet access to work the most, reads the statement.

FCC

FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund

FCC said it disbursed an additional $269 million in the first round.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 ­– The Federal Communications Commission announced additional details Monday about the second wave of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, including additional money that has been allocated from the first filing window.

The agency, which allocated $1.1 billion earlier this month, said second wave applicants filed for nearly $1.3 billion from all 50 states. The second window was open for applications between September 28 and October 13.

The agency also announced that an additional $269 million was allocated for the first filing window applications, which disbursed $1.2 billion from the $7.17 billion program.

The applications submitted for the latest round will go to fund 2.4 million connected devices and over 564,000 broadband connections to benefit schools and libraries. The agency has so far committed a total of $2.63 billion from the fund.

These latest commitments mean more than nine million students will be connected with the money. The support provided from the funds is expected to make homework completion and virtual learning more possible for students with connectivity issues, as many schools continue to operate remotely.

“Clearly there still is a tremendous demand for help in our communities to meet the broadband needs of students and library patrons engaged in online learning,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

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FCC

Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head

Industry reacts to the appointments of Rosenworcel as first permanent woman chair, Sohn as first openly gay commissioner.

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Gigi Sohn is officially appointed as Federal Communications Commissioner.

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 – After nine months as interim chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House announced Tuesday that it intends to nominate Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency’s permanent head, becoming the first full-time woman in that position.

Rosenworcel will be flanked by former FCC staffer Gigi Sohn, long speculated as a frontrunner for the top job, to be the crucial party tie-breaking fifth — and first openly gay – commissioner on the agency, the White House also announced Tuesday. Alan Davidson, a former director of public policy at Google, has also been nominated as the assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce, making him the head of the agency.

The positions must now be confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenworcel said in a statement that she is “deeply humbled” by the announcement and congratulated Sohn and Davidson on their selections. “It is an honor to work with my colleagues on the Commission and the agency’s talented staff to ensure that no matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the connections they need to live, work, and learn in the digital age,” she said.

In a tweet, Sohn said she is “deeply honored to be nominated by [Biden] to serve as FCC Commissioner. If confirmed, I’ll work to fulfill his goal of ensuring that every household in the US has robust broadband internet. Congratulations to [Rosenworcel] on her ascension to Chair – well deserved!”

Observers had speculated that a delay in making these nominations could hamper the Democratic party’s broadband policy agenda. The wait caused enough concern for educational institutions and senators representing 17 states to write letters urging Biden to nominate Rosenworcel. Even former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, said he was perplexed by the delay in Rosenworcel’s nomination.

Industry praise

Companies and industry association came out to praise the nominations as important steps forward to complete a commission that has before it an ambitious agenda to provide universal access to high-speed internet across the country.

“Having a fully staffed Commission will allow the fast paced communications industry to more quickly deliver results to American consumers,” said the Rural Wireless Association in a statement, which praised the nominations. “Rosenworcel has been a good steward as Acting Chair these past 9 months, and for over 30 years, Gigi Sohn has relentlessly served the public interest and kept Big Tech in check.”

Adrianne Furniss, the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society for which Sohn is currently a senior fellow, said in a statement that Sohn is “not only a broadband and telecommunications policy expert, but is expert at mastering complex policy issues, bringing disparate voices together to find common purpose, and pursuing the public interest.

“I’ve seen firsthand how effective she is as a leader who identifies, organizes, and partners with public interest groups; philanthropy; bipartisan federal, state, and local representatives; academics; and companies large and small,” Furniss added.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the commission at full strength “is important as issues from net neutrality to spectrum to the expansion of high speed broadband access are more necessary than ever as more people rely on internet connectivity during the pandemic…Having a seasoned DC veteran lead the NTIA will further help the administration advance its goals toward 5G and better internet connectivity.”

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said in a statement that each of the three nominees “brings into these core positions years of experience, deep connections, and legal and administrative know-how,” adding the commission will finally be operating at full capacity to “benefit American consumers, our economy, as well as those who linger without competitive and evolving broadband solutions in the digital divide.”

The Internet Innovation Alliance said in a statement that Rosenworcel has “proven time and again that she is an astute and balanced decisionmaker who is highly capable of bringing forward-looking policy prescriptions to the Commission and serving the best interests of the American people.” The association also had high praise for Sohn as “well-qualified and respected,” bringing years of policy and consumer advocacy” to the agency.

Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA Internet and Television Association, congratulated the nominees and for Rosenworcel’s work during the pandemic, stating that the three will now play a crucial role in policy design to “promote continued investment and innovation in wired and wireless broadband networks – including the growth of licensed and unlicensed platforms – and in supporting Congress’ clear direction to build next generation networks in unserved and underserved areas.”

USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said of Davidson’s nomination that Biden “has nominated a person with a range of technology and innovation experience, and a perspective that crosses the public, private and non-profit spheres.”

Joan Marsh, executive vice president of federal regulatory relations, highlighted in a congratulatory statement Rosenworcel’s accomplishments on programs including the Emergency Broadband Benefit and Emergency Connectivity Fund. She also noted Sohn’s “significant experience in the telecom policy arena.

“We look forward to working with her and her colleagues as the agency addresses the many pressing issues before it,” the statement added.

Noah Campbell, co-founder and CEO of telecom RS Access, which has been fighting to have the 12 GHz spectrum shared between satellite and 5G mobile service providers, said Rosenworcel has shown “tremendous leadership by bringing hundreds of megahertz of 5G spectrum to market in her roles at the FCC. She has been a staunch advocate for freeing more mid-band spectrum, while delivering on the promise to connect all Americans and close the digital divide.” He also congratulated Sohn and praised her commitment to public service.

Some background on nominees

Rosenworcel, a lawyer by training and graduate of New York University School of Law, would come into the helm as a long-time FCC veteran, having served as commissioner since her nomination by then-President Barack Obama in 2011, and before that an advisor to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. During this time, she voted in favor of net neutrality rules, which have been quashed under previous agency head Ajit Pai and will serve as one of the most potent issues to review by this new-look commission.

Rosenworcel has also pressed national security issues to the front, having taken action on suspected threats to the country’s networks by proposing to ban licenses to companies with ties to the Chinese Communist government. She has advocated to diversify radio technology equipment by advocating for more open technologies for lower cost and better security.

Sohn, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. Beside her advocacy work at the Benton Institute, she was also for 12 years the president and CEO of internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, before becoming counselor to the chairman of the FCC in 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has also held fellowship positions at the Open Society Foundations and the Mozilla Foundation.

Davidson, a graduate of Yale Law School, was in the early 2000s a professor at Georgetown University and director of public policy for the Americas at Google in Washington D.C. He served director of digital economy at the Department of Commerce, as vice president and director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and as tech policy fellow and then senior advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, according to his LinkedIn page.

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FCC

Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

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